We’ll continue a series of opponent preview posts for the New Orleans Saints opponents in 2018. We’ll finish the series previewing another powerhouse of the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams. Our friends over at Turf Show Times took some time to give us Saints fans the scoop a the reigning NFC West champions.
Week 9: vs the Los Angeles Rams
Notable free agent additions:
DL Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters (via trade), CB Aqib Talib (via trade), WR Brandin Cooks (via trade)
9.5 wins: Over. The NFC is going to be absolutely ridiculous this year. Of the 16 teams in the conference, 11 have been in the playoffs the last two seasons. The competitive balance across the conference is just incredibly high. So while I’m taking the over, I’m not taking it with wild confidence or jumping far beyond it. I don’t think the Rams get 12 wins, and yet I think they’re one of the best teams in the NFL.
This is gonna be weird.
Most exciting rookie:
RB John Kelly, the Rams’ earliest sixth-round pick out of Tennessee. Without a first-round or second-round pick due to trades for WR Brandin Cooks and WR Sammy Watkins (don’t worry, we don’t have a second-round pick next year either), the Rams’ draft class was always going to lack star power in Year 1. But what’s inviting here is the opportunity for splash plays in limited action.
The Rams have been begging for a legitimate option to spell RB Todd Gurley to keep him fresh both within the timeframe of an individual game and an entire season (and postseason). They opted not to hold on to Benny Cunningham from the Jeff Fisher era. They signed RB Lance Dunbar, but injuries prevented him from earning the role with legitimacy moving forward. Having drafted Kelly, he has a chance to beat out the competition for the RB2 role in what should be pretty limited given that Gurley is, well, quite good.
Position battle to keep an eye on:
Tight end or linebacker.
The Rams have second-year TE Gerald Everett and third-year Tyler Higbee battling for attention at the top while TE Temarrick Hemingway returns after missing all of last year. With Head Coach Sean McVay’s history with tight ends both in terms of productivity and that he was the TE Coach with Washington, it would stand to reason to expect more out of this unit however it shakes out.
As for linebackers, the Rams shuffled off ILB Alec Ogletree and OLB Robert Quinn via trade and opted not to re-sign OLB Connor Barwin. With those three open spots on the starting roster and without any major draft picks, the competition is on.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
Expectations. Yes, you’ve got DL Aaron Donald’s contract situation and his likely absence drawing headlines on Day 1, but the real storyline is that the Rams are relevant nationally for the first time in the preseason for a decade and a half.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
The state of the defense. For years, the Rams had relied on their defense throughout the season. This was both due to the last two head coaches, Steve Spagnuolo and Jeff Fisher, coming from defensive backgrounds along with their schematic philosophy but also because the offenses they oversaw were not good. At all.
Last year, things changed. Quickly. New Head Coach Sean McVay re-tooled the offense for QB Jared Goff and along with some key personnel additions, the offense turned into one of the league’s best. Perhaps what then didn’t get discussed was the defense lagging behind the offense for the first time in a decade. It wasn’t a bad defensive unit, but it clearly wasn’t a top side either with major issues in run defense and lacking consistent pass rush pressure when not supported with a blitz package.
So now in Year 2 under McVay’s wisened right-hand man in Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips after some high-profile additions in DL Ndamukong Suh, CB Aqib Talib and CB Marcus Peters, the defense is going to be expected to hold its own for a team that heads into camp with legitimate postseason aspirations.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
Nothing major. EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (coming off a broken foot) and DE Dominique Easley (coming off a ACL tear) are on the PUP list. And S Lamarcus Joyner and G Jeremiah Kolone are on the NFI list without any real info there. So hopefully by the time the preseason is set to open, we’ll be at full health.
So what says you, you unbiased Saints fans? Can the Saints knock down their preseason opponent, or will they get humbled in the Dome? Vote in the poll. Explain in the comments. And make sure you also check out DraftDividends.com, a website for a new book I’m writing currently titled Draft Picks and Dividends: A Fantasy Football Player’s Guide to Understanding the Stock Market.
How will the Saints fare against the Rams?
This poll is closed